Thursday, September 28, 2006

Doctor Who lost without his tardis

I was ready for a disappointment when I sat down to watch Who do you think you are? featuring David Tennant last night on BBC1. "Scotsman finds he is descended from Scots and a bit of Irish" didn't seem to promise a rip-roaring programme.

However, the whole thing was unexpectedly fascinating. It was fascinating to hear that David Tennant is actually David MacDonald and chose his surname, as a sixteen year old aspiring actor, from the pages of Smash Hits magazine. Yes, he named himself after the bloke in the Pet Shop Boys!

It was when he travelled to Ireland in search of his mother's ancestors that it got interesting. His grandfather was a popular football player for Derry City FC whose season scoring record still stands. His grandmother was a local beauty queen. One of his ancestors, James, was a Unionist Councillor in the same city who "was involved in the vote-rigging which maintained control of the council for the Protestant minority. Yet James also fought for social justice, and one of his daughters married a Catholic lad. His descendants were caught up in the Bloody Sunday march in 1972, the catalyst for the Troubles that have gripped the province ever since."

First of all we saw Tennant, a self-professed "Guardian-reading liberal" coming to terms with holding the Orange sash of his ancestor. Then he was delighted to hear of James' fight for better conditions for the poor. Then Tennant seemed more at ease to talk to his cousin who was a peaceful marcher in the Bloody Sunday protest.

Tennant's family history covered quite a kaleidoscope of Irish history.


  1. I was scanning does documents he was reading in Londonderry just in case any family names cropped up.

    None on the sheet that Tennant looked at but I appear to have found somebody with the family name on the same street as his family.

  2. You must have done a screen shot or sometyhing. Very impressive

  3. No, although I did watch the video recording over again to check for names. I just remembered the street name and then did a search myself of the signatories of the Ulster Covenant online and found that some of my family who signed lived on the same street as Tennant's Blair ancestors.

    Spooky to find my second locality link with the current Dr Who.

  4. Yes, very spooky. That convenant was a very impressive example of public activism, whatever the rights or wrongs of it were/are.

  5. I always start off watching attentively but soon find myself researching online myself with Who Do You Think You Are? on in the background. I've missed the last couple (not least because of conference) but realised just in time that Tennant was on.

    Incidentally, several of the people I was researching were from near Newbury...

  6. ...Near Newbury? Nothing to do with me then - I'm from Cornwall.

  7. I've got nought down there - possibly a Devoner in the dim and distant past. And despite living in Scotland, no ancestors up here either.

  8. I do the same Will, I actually found one possible link of family from Donegal moving across the Clydebank as a result of the Tennant Programme. When one branch of the family comes from a small village and one of the members with a family Christian name signs the Ulster Covenant in Clydebank but gives Donegal address it needs further investigation.

  9. Stephen and Will - this is really exciting for me - my first discussion on my comments board! Thank you. While I have no knowledge of Scots/Irish genalogy, I have traced my family tree back to 1550 in Cornwall.

    As I did so I was repeatedly thankful that my family have had reasonably unsusual surnames and have steered clear of overly repetitive family Christian names (although there are a lot of Richard Walters for some reason - I think they were named after Richard Granville who was in turn descended from Sir Bevil Granville, the well known toasted sandwich maker).

    I feel for those who have to wade through pages and pages of John MacDonalds or Patrick Murphys to try and tease out their ancestor.